Hasnet Lais is an educator and journalist who writes on contemporary Muslim affairs. You can follow him on Twitter @haznet1.
Besides their lethal potential, pandemics have the seemingly intransigent quality of being party poopers. With the onset of COVID-19, much of the world has to adjust to this morbid reality as our obsession with entertainment at all costs has been dealt a tremendous blow.
The recent decision by governing bodies to postpone Euro 2020 and suspend domestic league seasons across the continent amidst the coronavirus outbreak is hard for many to swallow.
As the world’s most popular spectator sport and among the few which cross international boundaries, football’s ability to arouse the passions and loyalty of Britons is unmistakable. It inspires devotion and fervour to such an extent that we may even account for its functionality as a cult in the place of organised religion.
Being so woven into our social fabric, the revised sporting calendar has placed the beautiful game on hold and the implications for the millions who are so emotionally invested in their clubs are as sobering as any government health warning. Furthermore, with the UK placed under partial lockdown, the closure of non-essential businesses and pubs in particular comes as a surreal shock to the system. Studies highlight the value of pubs as focal points of the community across villages, towns and cities.
Pub culture is so integral to British socialisation that critics have dubbed the announcement a “dark day” for Britain, arguing that we maintain this national treasure as we did throughout the 1918 flu epidemic and the Second World War. Despite passionate appeals on the nation to hold back from their favourite pastime in arguably the country’s most cherished public space, there was a serious concern that even deadly pathogens could not sway Britons to comply with such a prohibition.
Add this year’s 50th anniversary of the Glastonbury festival to the long list of cancellations and it would seem COVID-19 has well and truly dampened the British summer.
It’s hard to measure the value we place on entertainment and socialisation. There is little in our life that isn’t dominated by the insatiable desire for amusement and human contact. As social creatures, it keeps us at functioning capacity and fulfils the psychological need for both connectedness and escapism. Suddenly, much of that has ground to an unprecedented halt. So how can Britons endure when the country’s favourite means of releasing endorphins has dwindled for the foreseeable future?
An unexpected silver lining of coronavirus may be the rekindling of the most important institution for a healthy society: family.
Over the past couple of decades, Britain has been facing family breakdowns of epidemic proportions, and what was traditionally considered the bedrock of society is slowly reducing to a heap of rubble.
Amid calls for social distancing and self isolation, and with schools closed for an indefinite period, millions of Britons are cooped under one roof with relatives whom they usually do not spend much time with due to over-scheduled lives. In these unusual circumstances, home confinement can have a therapeutic potential when struggling to adjust to an altered reality.
When reflecting on childhood, the most meaningful way of allaying fears and detoxing from stress was to confide in parents and siblings. Though we often whinge about the daily grind depriving us of quality time with family, now is the moment to turn this unforeseen challenge into opportunity.
Home is where the heart is and we are ideally situated to reassess notions of community by fostering a greater sense of belonging with those who are often neglected yet matter the most, such as retired parents who are alienated by our frenetic lives, estranged relatives who could do with a phone call, and the emotionally distant members of the family with whom we must restore the bonds of kinship.
Calamities also have the rare quality of fixating us on the existential questions about man, life and the universe. In the past couple of weeks, nature reminded us that our sense of security is illusory. In these trying times, faith is a coping mechanism as it helps build resilience when we are collectively fretting over our mortality.
With the NHS teetering towards the abyss and the dreaded peak period on the horizon, seeking a higher calling can help ease the existential anxiety in moments of distress, and is an innate human impulse when we’re helplessly at the mercy of elements beyond our control.
As a nation, we may be waning spiritually, but it’s time we shed our indifference towards prayer and acknowledge the restorative potential and benefits of beliefs such as redemption, salvation and the afterlife to our psychological well being. Those who live with the perpetual angst of a universe without purpose may not be as resilient when reckoning with the predicament of such a virulent and indiscriminate virus.
Although religious gatherings are suspended across the country, faith could very well enjoy a new lease of life by investing moments of profound tragedy with meaning. In a time of lockdowns, quarantine and isolation, many will find consolation through submitting their will to a power that comprehends pain and suffering more intimately than public health professionals or well-intentioned platitudes of politicians and celebrities.
Furthermore, seeing as religious communities are better integrated in social groups which promote togetherness and cohesion, they are perfectly placed to extend their outreach to the growing number of elderly and vulnerable Britons who are suffering from loneliness and inadequate housing and support services due to years of crippling austerity.
The past couple of weeks have been an abysmal showcase for secular liberal values and the failures of capitalism are laid bare before our eyes. The stockpiling panic exposed the ugly depths of our covetousness and individualism. Everyone from the avaricious consumer participating in the grocery-hoarding frenzy to the rapacious retailer and supplier unconscionably inflating prices must look themselves in the mirror and reflect on the enormity of such behaviour.
Seeing as we all share an uncertain economic future, the times ahead should help cultivate a more socially conscious ethic and inspire appreciation for frugal and minimalist lifestyles. It’s time we collectively batten down the hatches, resist the temptation to deplete supermarket aisles, and consume reasonably within our means to demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable environment. In doing so, we reawaken a common humanity and global connectednesses that can help us emerge from our atomised bubbles and prove that we are more than what we accumulate.
Of course, technology – the opiate of the masses – is at hand to be an emotional crutch to lean on. One can always occupy their lockdown hours by self-medicating through the plethora of screen-based maladies at our disposal, from video gaming to binging on Netflix until the early hours of the morning.
But retreating to our often addictive and unhealthy obsessions to numb the pain of reality will achieve little except to show that we are a vacuous species, too cowardly to examine our conscience and too busy to ask those soul-searching questions which get to the heart of who we really are.
So how will we fare during lockdown? Will we be remembered as a captive culture, held hostage by the bread and circuses? Or will we introspect to unearth the power of isolation?